Think Volusia County, Florida and you probably conjure up visions of languid blue skies, the relentless sun and at least two weeks out of the year, incredibly loud motorcycles. That's because this chunk of real estate in central Florida encompasses the bike mecca of Daytona Beach, site of the largest motorcycling melee in the country and home to a storied racing heritage. It was only fitting, then, that Suzuki introduced its newest middleweight cruiser at the holy rite of Daytona Beach Bike Week. And while the midsized VL800 Intruder Volusia might recall the classic lines of the bikes of yore, it certainly won't deafen your delicate sensibilities like some of the more, er, traditional fare you find thundering around Main Street during this biker version of Spring Break.
Off the Platform
Even at first glance, the Suzuki Intruder 800 Volusia pleases the senses, luring you in for a closer look with a full set of curves, an oversized fuel tank and a dished leather saddle that belies its middleweight displacement_--_an impression many of our Daytona biker brethren echoed when informed it was only 800cc.
With a 2001 release, the VL800 model brings the number of cruisers in Suzuki's 800 platform to three, joining the aggressively styled VZ800 Marauder and the old standby base model VS800 Intruder. The Volusia is clearly positioned to appeal to the currently fat fashion in cruisers, leaving the Marauder and Intruder to cover the sportier, more custom end of the scale. As many import manufacturers have done in the popular midsize classes, Suzuki utilizes existing tooling for major engine components on the offshoot Volusia, thus helping to keep MSRP below a perceived price point and adding value to the entire platform_--_an important consideration in a competitive market. Carrying a suggested sticker of $6599, the Volusia is only $200 more than the base model Intruder, yet seems endowed with many of a larger displacement motorcycle's features.
If It Ain't Broke...
The Volusia Intruder is powered by the same tried-and-true 805cc 45-degree V-twin motivating the standard 800 Intruder. And although the engine boasts an identical 83.0 x 74.4mm bore and stroke, Suzuki has pumped up the Volusia powerplant's torque and low rpm power with a heavier generator rotor, and reversed the position of the rear cylinder head to adapt to the modified cradle frame. Styling variations also forced changes to the cylinder cooling fins, and cylinder head intakes for both jugs on the Volusia's V-twin are now positioned to breathe through a single, 34mm carburetor instead of the original's dual carb arrangement.
Each of the two cylinders carries a single overhead shaft operating four valves, with a single spark plug positioned in the combustion chamber. And the VL800 also has liquid-cooling and a five-speed, wide-ratio transmission delivering power to the rear wheel via shaft final drive, like its cousin. On the Volusia, its shaft drive is cleverly hidden with a judicious use of black paint, for a camouflage effect.
Puttin' on the Ritz
Lest you think the Volusia shares the bloodlines of its racier stablemate, the Marauder, rest assured this bike makes no bones about its boulevard leanings. Retro cruiser styling abounds, with a wide, sculpted fuel tank, deeply valanced fenders, spoked wheels and a staggered dual exhaust emphasizing traditional lines. The Volusia's low 27.6-inch seat height mimics other Suzuki 800s, and the leather-grain embossed saddle is wide enough to offer comfort and ample support over the miles without overshadowing the tank or fenders with overstuffed bulk.
The rear pillion rides over the fender and appears sufficiently padded to serve as a comfortable perch, although we never did get the chance to solicit a passenger for a backseat impression. In a nod to convertibility, the rear pad can be removed from the fender for a solo seat look.
The Volusia's 33-degree rake contributes to a long 64.7-inch wheelbase, which rests on polished wire-spoke wheels. Fat tube-type tires, a 16-incher up front and a 15-incher in the back, connate a stately, well anchored stance.
Cutting Down the Family Tree
Although it may be cousin to the base Intruder and Marauder, that relationship is by marriage only_--_the Volusia expands on its 800 family roots with a higher level of refinement. A quick scan of the frame, cockpit and forks reveals exceptional fit and finish, comparable to the standards found on much larger (and more expensive) bikes. And while we took exception to flimsy details on previous Suzuki 800s, the Volusia's instrument cluster was a godsend in the deafening madness of Bike Week, offering a calm oasis of time info, trip mileage and fuel levels at the flip of a gloved thumb. The handsome tank-mounted instrument panel features an analog speedometer with an inset LCD fuel gauge and clock. An odometer and tripmeter are integrated into the LCD display, allowing the rider to switch modes with the push of button. The ignition and steering lock switch is located on the right side of the steering stem, although we felt it would be better suited above deck on a bike this well sorted.
The engine compartment is splashed with a tasteful application of chrome, but most of the shiny stuff proves to be plastic pieces, affirming the Volusia's humble origins. The header pipes, dual exhausts, headlight and engine covers are some of the true chrome parts, while the fenders and air cleaner cover are impostors. To their credit, however, the plastic doesn't appear overtly cheap; we had to check to make sure, especially when eyeing the attractive elliptical air cleaner.
We have to give a huge thumbs up to the copious 4.5 gallon fuel tank_--_this cargo-size hold is usually found on bikes twice the size of the Volusia. Our two-toned test bike wore its red and black colored gas tank stylishly, looking more like its bulkier cousin the 1500LC than the diminutive VS800. And when we parked our test model at the hotel in Daytona, among a sea of Harleys, we really found ourselves squinting to locate it.
When in Rome
Since we were in Daytona Beach, it was understood that a quick blast down the sandy shoreline would be in order. Rest assured, the Volusia handles just like you'd think a 450-pound motorcycle would in the sand.
Tooling 'round town on the boulevard, though, is what this low, wide cruiser aspires to do, and we found ourselves looking forward to every jaunt. The immediate ride quality is that of a bigger bike, with easy but slower steering, softer suspension, and a relaxed, throaty lope. Except for necessary choke prodding during early morning starts, the bike performed flawlessly_--_we even took it through a quick dash in the rain, where the Volusia's long wheelbase proved a solid stabilizing force. The broad, slightly pulled back handlebar, low seat and forward pegs offered an amiable riding position and we found it easy to lever around low speed turns. A wide, flat powerband gave us good throttle response, even at low rpm. Passing slower autos uphill usually required a quick trip to the gear shifter, but any acceleration off the line left traffic behind without fuss.
The backbone of the VL800 is a narrow double cradle steel frame designed to conceal its progressive rear suspension, resulting in the currently de rigueur hardtail look. The single, coil-spring rear shock hidden underneath the seat soaks up small bumps without complaint, but we found the harder-edged stuff wasn't as easily dispelled. The spring preload is adjustable and lets you dial-in your settings without much effort.
The Volusia's 11.8-inch front disc brake performed its job adequately in most situations, without standing the bike up in corners. The levers were well positioned and accessible. The rear drum unit answered any prodding without feeling grabby, and the pedal was conveniently covered from the front footpeg.
We found cable clutch actuation to be smooth at the engagement point, and while it wasn't particularly light, this was an improvement over our previous experiences with Suzuki clutches, and launches were worry-free. The staggered dual exhaust elicited a pleasing throaty rumble by most accounts, when you actually could hear it in the Daytona din. We felt the sound was almost too muffled for pipes this large, most likely because of Suzuki's integrated air injection system.
Suzuki's also introduced an admirable array of aftermarket accessories for the Volusia, including replacement chrome levers, case guards, radiator covers, caliper covers, headlight visors and fender trim for a custom look. The Volusia is available in an unremarkable black and white or snappy black and red.
All in all the Volusia strikes us as a finely turned out, nicely packaged midsize bike that might fool you into believing you're astride a much larger machine. We couldn't find much fault with this bike, but we didn't always feel that beloved rush of adrenaline when we rolled on the throttle either. Alas, a middle-of-the-road personality is just what you'd expect when shopping for a plot of chrome in the middle of Florida's hardpan. It's certainly more than we anticipated to emerge from this line, and enough to make the Volusia, far and away, our favorite 800cc Suzuki cruiser.
High Points: **Great styling; full featured instrument panel; huge gas tank; roomy as a bike twice its displacement.
**Low Points: ** Awkward key position; inferior footpegs; too much plastic.
**First Changes: ** Relocate ignition; change footpegs to match styling.
2001 Suzuki Intruder 800 Volusia
Suggested base price: $6599
Warranty: 12 months, unlimited miles
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Engine type: Liquid-cooled 45-degree V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves per cylinder
Displacement, bore Stroke: 805cc, 83.0 x 74.4mm
Compression Ratio: 9.4:1
Carburetion: 1, 34mm Mikuni
Transmission: wet, multiplate clutch; 5 speeds
Final drive: Shaft
Wet weight: 587 lb.
GVWR: 950 lb.
Wheelbase: 65.2 in.
Overall length: 98.8 in.
Front tire: 130/90-16
Rear tire: 170/80-15
Front suspension: 41 mm stanchions, 5.5 in. travel
Rear suspension: Single damper, 4.1 in. travel, adjustable for preload
Seat height: 27.6 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
Handlebar width: 35.5 in.
Fuel mileage: 33.1 to 37.3 mpg
Average range: 144 miles
1/4 mile acceleration: 15.34 sec., 83.5 mph
Cherney:** When the hell did 800cc get to feel so burly? Credit Suzuki for outfitting this Intruder with the features and finish of liter-sized cruisers. Though it lopes around on the same 805cc mill you might remember from Intruders past, it was only at higher speeds on the highway that I was reminded of the Volusia's top end limitations. The V-stars of the world had just better watch out. There's not much room for luggage on this bike and the many plastic bits disappointed me, but considering its 800cc displacement and modest price, the Volusia's surprisingly well-heeled. Give it a bit more throat in the pipe, and then maybe it can run with the big boys.
E-mail your throat remedies to Cherney at Andy.Cherney@primedia.com.
Elvidge: At one point we lost the new Volusia in our Daytona Beach hotel parking lot_--_a sea of chrome and rubber that churned 24 hours a day. Someone said "Oh, there it is." And I said, "Nope, that's a 1500LC," and walked away from it. Really.
The Volusia not only looks like a big-bore cruiser, it feels very civilized and offers impressive around-town power. I'm pleased with this new entry, and would have to say it tops my list of current-model Intruders. We're brewing up a big middleweight comparison to sort out the nuances of this popular class, and I predict Suzuki will see some honors.
To see what else Jamie lost in the parking lot, e-mail her at Jamie.Elvidge@primedia.com.